Are you new to massage therapy? Whether you’re an experienced person looking to expand your self-care horizons or a massage newbie, you’ll likely be amazed by the number of available massage therapy techniques and practices and the benefits they can bring you.
For those of you trying massage therapy for the first time, or for those looking to explore new techniques for health and wellness, here’s 12 of the most popular massage and bodywork practices and some info on how they might benefit you:
Acupressure therapists use the same meridian system as acupuncture practitioners, but without the needles!
For more than 5,000 years, traditional Chinese medicine practitioners have developed and refined this traditional healing art. Acupressurists, as they are called, use their hands to apply pressure to trigger points throughout the body. This technique is believed to unblock “stuck” body energy and open up the pathway for healing energy to return the mind and body to a state of wellness.
Acupressure has been used to treat sexual dysfunction, stress, and for beauty purposes. Acupression, for example, may improve the skin, tone facial muscles, and help the body relieve congestions.
Ancient cultures across the globe have practiced massage and aromatherapy. Chinese, Egyptian, and Indian practitioners, for example, have incorporated these modalities into many of their medicinal traditions. Ancient Greeks and Romans used these techniques not only for healing and relaxation but also for spiritual enlightenment. Massage therapists who combine massage and aromatherapy may provide clients with a deeper, more relaxing experience than a standard massage.
While you’re getting your massage, inhale your favorite scent or have your practitioner recommend one to meet your individual needs, such as lavender for stress and anxiety relief.
Many people first experience the benefits of massage and bodywork in the form of chair massage. Chair massage therapists, sometimes spotted in shopping malls and airports, use special chairs that allow clients to remain fully clothed and mostly upright.
This often quick, soothing form of massage allows people to take a quick and healthful break from their busy day. Researchers have shown that even these short massage breaks reduce people’s heart rates, blood pressure, and, of course, stress and anxiety levels.
Many corporations have found that periodically offering chair massage as a benefit to their employees increases productivity, focus, and morale. In only 10-20 minutes, your staff can enjoy the stress relief, health benefits, and team-building experience of chair massage in the convenience of your workplace.
Chinese tui na massage practitioners employ rhythmic compression methods to free up and balance “qi” (body energy). These massage therapists combine energy work and meridian release elements of related practices like acupressure and acupuncture, without using any needles. Tui na also involves many of the rubbing and kneading techniques common to most Western massage styles.
This ancient Chinese practice roughly translates into English as “scraping away fever.” Traditional practitioners of gua sha used bone, stone, jade, or horn implements to rub their clients’ oiled skin. Today, gua sha therapists tend to use rounded plastic tools to offer their clients a less painful and more modern hygienic experience. Gua sha practitioners use these implements to rub their clients’ backs and shoulders to increase circulation beneath the skin (often using a soothing, lubricating balm).
Medical researchers have found evidence that this simple technique encourages the body to release many powerful healing effects. As the body reabsorbs the blood from the treated areas (which often appear red and blotchy for a few days), it releases chemicals that fight infection, reduce inflammation, and protect cells.
Hot Stone Massage
Hot stone massage therapists heat special stones in a sanitary solution and place them on their clients’ backs, in their palms, and even between their toes. Like the popular Swedish style of massage, hot stone massage therapists may use oils to lubricate their clients’ surface tissues before employing deep tissue techniques.
Your hot stone massage practitioner may even rub your muscles lengthwise with the heated stones to release even more tension.
Traditional Hawaiian healers called “kahunas” employed massage techniques in conjunction with meditation, plant-based medicine, and breath work. Also sometimes referred to as Hawaiian temple medicine, lomi lomi massage can help you activate mana (life energy) to increase well-being, increase circulation, and lower blood pressure.
Connective tissues called fascia run throughout your entire body. They surround and support your muscles, which means they can inhibit range of motion when tightened by overuse, injury, or surgical recovery.
Unlike massage therapists, who work on muscles and soft tissues, myofascial release practitioners focus on fascial lengthening and softening to reduce pain and increase mobility.
Orthopedic massage practitioners focus on correcting malformed bones and muscles with massage therapy techniques. These therapists help their clients manage pain, achieve better alignment and posture, and improve joint function.
Reflexology therapists massage their clients’ hands and feet to activate inner healing. This practice bears many similarities to acupressure and acupuncture, but, again, without using any needles. Reflexology practitioners manipulate points on their patients’ bodies that correspond with internal organs.
This healing modality can trigger your autonomous nervous system and increase hormone production.
Named after its founder, Ida Rolf, this massage technique involves may involved a little more discomfort than some gentler styles. Also known as structural integration, this style of massage may greatly improve your posture and range of motion.
Rolfing practitioners assist their clients in achieving moderately difficult yoga-like poses to realign their musculoskeletal systems and bear their body weight better with proper posture.
Modern Russian massage, sometimes called Russian sports massage, was once only available to athletes, the ill, and the injured. Russian (and Soviet) physicians advanced the science and practice of massage on the battlefield and in the sports arena. Russia, a comparatively massage-friendly nation, has provided some of the world’s top massage researchers and therapists.
Russian bath houses, called banyas, still offer traditional Russian massage venik (or “twigging”) treatments which involve hitting clients (gently) with oak or birch branches. However, modern Russian massage practitioners use their hands to relieve pain and increase range of motion with kneading, percussive, and even vibration techniques.
And There’s More!
Some consider Reiki a form of massage; others view it as energy- or bodywork. Like massage therapists, Reiki practitioners place their hands on their clients’ bodies; however, they don’t rub and knead soft tissues. Simply by placing their hands on a patient (for up to 10 minutes a position), Reiki masters are believed to be able to transmit healing energy and clear out negative thoughts and emotion.
Whether you choose to find a massage therapist for an intense, relaxing, spiritual, or practical massage style, remember you can always return to this site (and this article) to explore new and different massage therapy options. You can also click the relevant links to dig deeper into these types of massage to discover their history, medical science, and modern practice—as well as what to expect from your first massage session!
- How to apply pressure to acupressure points. (n.d.) Retrieved from http://www.acupressure.com/articles/Applying_pressure_to_acupressure_points.htm
- Ali, B., Ali, N., Shams, S., Ahamad, A., Kahn, S., & Anwar, F. (2015) Essential oils used in aromatherapy: A systemic review. Asian Pacific Journal of Tropical Biomedicine 5(8), 601-611.
- Bauer, B. (n.d.) What can you tell me about myofascial release therapy as a treatment for back pain? Does it work? Retrieved from http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/back-pain/expert-answers/myofascial-release/faq-20058136
- Benefits of tui na massage. (2014) Retrieved from http://www.pacificcollege.edu/news/blog/2014/12/19/benefits-tui-na-massage
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- Fisher, R. (2012, September 5) Rolfing: No longer a fringe therapy. Retrieved from http://health.usnews.com/health-news/articles/2012/09/05/Rolfing-no-longer-a-fringe-therapy
- Ganfield, L. (n.d.) Myofascial Release Therapy. Retrieved from http://www.spine-health.com/treatment/physical-therapy/myofascial-release-therapy
- Helwig, D (2005) Russian massage. In Gale Encyclopedia of Alternative Medicine. Retrieved from http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-3435100679.html
- Langevin, H. (2014) Retrieved from http://www.the-rheumatologist.org/article/what-role-does-fascia-play-in-rheumatic-diseases/?singlepage=1
- Rand, W. (n.d.) A personal healing program. Retrieved from http://www.reiki.org/reikinews/personalhealing.htm
- Skuban, R. (2016) Benefits of lomi lomi massage. Retrieved from http://www.amcollege.edu/benefits-of-lomilomi-massage/
- Smale, W. (2015) The Russian massage that’s not for the faint-hearted. Retrieved from http://www.bbc.com/news/business-31921778
- What is myofascial release? (n.d.) Retrieved from https://www.myofascialrelease.com/about/definition.aspx
- Wine, Z. (2008) A history of Russian medical massage. Massage Today 8(4). Retrieved from http://www.massagetoday.com/mpacms/mt/article.php?id=13796